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My Complicated Relationship With Pain

I suffer from chronic pain, PTSD, depression, and anxiety. After years of doctor-prescribed opioids and wasting away in the house alone, I decided to ditch the meds, improve my diet, and start exercising. Somehow that journey led to me being a distance runner.

A recent conversation with a friend, whose daughter started cutting, left me introspective about my own relationship with pain. I’ve never been a cutter but I began wondering if I was all that different in my behavior. My understanding of cutters is that they do it to take back some form of control over their pain. Do I push myself to the point of exhaustion and pain in order to feel in control? I know that I often feel that if I have anything left in the tank after a run that I haven’t really done anything. I know that’s not logical but it’s not uncommon for me to feel like that anyway.

Looking back on my history was eye-opening. I broke my big toe two weeks before my first full marathon, the 2016 New York City Marathon. I trained so hard and knew I’d probably never get chosen in the lottery again so I ran against medical advice. Then I ran the Philadelphia Marathon two weeks later to qualify for the Marathon Maniacs. In the spring of 2017, I began feeling sick. I threw up twice during a 5K and again at a 5K the following week. I relented and went to the ER and was told that I probably had a bad case of food poisoning. A week later I ran a half marathon and vomited seven times along the course. I refused to stop. Quitting wasn’t an option and although my time finish time was much slower than normal, I was proud that I finished. A week later I had my appendix removed. In 2018 I contracted a terrible flu/virus that left me completely bedridden for 10 days. On the 11th day I drove to Virginia and completed the Marine Corps Marathon.

Reflection on my Relationship

Does this make me tough, strong, stupid? Probably a little bit of all three. Without realizing it consciously, I wonder if I’ve become an accomplished runner because I actually enjoy pain. I don’t mean enjoy in a traditional sense either. Maybe comfortable would be a more accurate word. Have I lived so much of my life in pain that I feel less alive, less connected, less engaged without it? In an attempt to transition from victim to victor, have I embraced the very thing that I hate the most, the thing that tried to ruin me?

Running has saved me. It hasn’t and won’t cure my mental illness, but it has provided me with the most powerful tool in my arsenal. Running hasn’t and won’t take away my chronic pain but it has granted me access to endorphins in a much safer and more sustainable manner than pharmaceuticals ever have. Running has put me back in control and that’s a hell of a good feeling after so many years spent adrift. I’m strong. I’ve proven that to myself and to the world. I think my next challenge will be learning how to gain tighter control of that strength to better serve myself and others for the long-term.

Carpe diem!


By Dave Scarpello

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